Adapting to Disruptive Behavior in Online Teaching

Michaela has a Bachelor of Education degree and has been teaching with Qkids for two years. She is also a brick and mortar teacher and loves how both jobs allow her to meet and support a variety of students. When she isn't teaching, you can find her at the gym, on her yoga mat, or curled up on her couch with some coffee and a good book.

Imagine… You've taught your trials, received feedback from your coach, improved your teaching skills, and successfully been hired!  You're living the dream as they say – meeting new students each day and helping them in their English learning journey. What happens, though, when you finally meet a student who just isn't feeling it? Just plain isn't responding? Actively trying to disrupt the class? As a brick and mortar and online teacher, I'd like to share with you my process for adapting to disruptive behavior.

Remember That You’re in an Online Classroom:

If you've experienced slow internet, you know how frustrating it can be. Now picture you're a student taking lessons from a foreign teacher in another language. You'd probably be grumpy too if you couldn't hear the teacher, your computer was freezing, or some other issue!  Before you decide that a nonresponsive student is genuinely being disruptive, check to make sure they can see and hear you by asking them verbally and typing a message using the text box. Send them a "robot" using the "Remind Student" tool to help them. There's no harm in checking! You'll either alleviate the issue right away or show the student that you are a caring person. Even if they don't show it right away, they will begin to see you as someone who understands the challenges that can come with e-learning.

Kindness Goes a Long Way:

You want to be a teacher, so I already know you're a kind person. We should always try to make sure that shines through while we teach. Smiling and a friendly tone can mean so much – especially in an ESL classroom where the student may be heavily relying on our body language to understand. We should also remember that our class with these students is only a portion of their day. If a student is disruptive there could be many other things going on in their life that could be causing the behavior. Behaviour is communication, so what could they be trying to tell you? Remember the mantra "They are not giving me a hard time, they are having a hard time" to help you avoid taking anything personally. We have the opportunity to make our 30 minutes spent with them a bright spot in their day so let's make it happen!

Be Proactive and Build Relationships:

One way to manage disruptive behavior in your classroom is by being proactive and preventing it from the beginning. Students are more likely to want to learn from someone they trust and connect with so forming a bond with students is key. We only have half an hour to spend with these students, so we have to act fast! Depending on their speaking level, asking students how their day is going and what they have been doing that day can be a great way to connect. We should also make an effort to show interest, too. For example, if a student shares that they played basketball today, why not whip out the basketball sticker and say "You like basketball? That is awesome!". You never know, you may be eliminating potential behavior issues by solidifying a connection with this student. You also are showing the rest of the class that you are warm and caring.

 Be Engaging:

Disruptive behavior can happen when a student is bored or otherwise not invested in the learning. Considering that this a second language for them and we are oceans apart, our ability to engage and entertain can play a huge role. Your smile, humor, and excitement can really turn the class around. Amp up your TPR, ask the class prompting questions during the story slides and don't be afraid to get a little silly! Laughter helps students feel at ease and helps alleviate the intimidation they may feel. Personally, I like to use a fuzzy bear puppet to help with pair work speaking practice with young children. It makes them giggle and feel relaxed while they learn!

Use Good Teaching Practices:

If humor and personal connection with the students just aren't cutting it you may need to think a little deeper about where the behavior is coming from. It's important to check for any patterns in the behavior and look for ways it can be reversed. For example, some students who are insecure about their speaking abilities may engage in disruptive behavior whenever they are asked to say a sentence independently or receive frequent correction. They could be engaging in this behavior for multiple reasons, including avoiding the challenging task (speaking a new language!).  

To counteract this, make liberal use of the group classroom design! Have students participate in repeated practice as a group. It always feels more comfortable trying something new when you can blend in with everyone else and build your confidence. As the teacher, you can listen to the group and model corrections for them to try while not singling out any one student. Woohoo! Students are getting useful feedback on their speaking while avoiding undue embarrassment (and saving you from undue behavior!). After repeated practice and confidence has been built, you can try having them speak independently again. They just might surprise you with their newfound confidence. Be sure to reward them enthusiastically!

All in all, a willingness to connect with students and be persistent with encouraging them can really take you far when it comes to the world of online teaching! If you found this article helpful and are thinking about applying to Qkids you can get started at this link:

Happy teaching!

Shaping the future of E-learning together! Helping Qkids family grow in your own way!

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  1. I noticed you don't list a referral code. I see other teacher blogs list their referral codes for readers to use when applying. Good article.


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